Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Joy or Me As Mr. Grinch

Oh the Holidays.  The joy of family, food, fun and relaxing.  Well, maybe not relaxing, but most people try to relax just a little.  Of course, there is the pleasure of shopping, music, long lines at retailers, a movie or two and a whole lot more of other stuff one does during the holidays.

Speaking of shopping, how many of you are going out for a little Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving?  You know, Black Friday shopping?  Wait, I forgot, Black Friday is a thing of the past isn't it?  Okay, fine.  How many are going out anytime between after Thanksgiving lunch/dinner and Sunday close of business?  Typically, Janda and I participate in the fun.  Last year, we were among the masses of mean people that shopped Thursday night.  I know!  We were a part of the reason the retail workers were working.  Actually, it wasn't our fault.  We just took advantage of what was being offered.

Last year, I briefly touched on the topic of retail stores being open on Thanksgiving.  This year, I figured I'd get a little deeper into the subject and my thoughts on it.  If you are a very traditional person who does not want to change their perspective of things, you should probably stop reading now.  Or, if you don't mind seeing/reading someone else's point of view that might make you uncomfortable, then continue reading.

Not very long ago, life was simple.  Sunday's were meant for church and then family time.  Family time for my family typically meant lunch out at Burger King, Arby's, Royal Fork or Golden Corral (others were options, including a home cooked meal).  Sunday's also meant grocery stores were closed along with most of the city not in the gas or food service industries.

Fast forward a few years you find that grocery stores were now open.  Malls, movie theaters, roller rinks and almost everything else considered Sunday just a normal business day.  Sure, churches were still open.  Some of them were even adding a second or third service.  My church, we expanded to two services and were in the process of building a new building.  For the most part though, the holidays were still sacred.  Nothing, and I mean nothing was open.  Well, say for the airlines and a few gas stations, everything was closed.

Over the years, the demand to have more open on holidays grew.  Movie theaters, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and anything you could think of was now open.  As America became more of a McDonald's society, more things opened on holidays and for longer hours.  The one thing we could always count on though was Thanksgiving and Christmas were mostly closed.  Black Friday and the day after Christmas were shopping days (or return days) that had a buzz built up to.  Excitement and anticipation were reasons we bought the newspaper on Thanksgiving and Christmas (or had it delivered to your house).  This was the case up until just a couple years ago.

A couple years ago the retail game changed.  Instead of stores opening at 8am a couple of them upped the ante and opened at 6am.  Then Kohl's, Target and others opened at 4am.  Despite the cries from employees and those steeped in tradition, the masses bought  goods.  Not only did we buy goods, we bought a lot.  So much that a few stores began opening at midnight!  Now, all that has been tossed out and retailers are opening on Thanksgiving night.  Certainly, people wouldn't go out on a holiday and buy stuff, right!  Well, consumers did, and did so in record numbers.  Of course, record numbers were for Black Friday, which was now Thursday through Sunday.  Traditionalists, unions and employees didn't like this "new" shopping phenomenon, but they did so because that is what employers wanted.

So here we sit today.  Christmas items have been out since November 1st - at the latest, stores have been having sales for Christmas items almost as long.  Huge markdowns have already been announced.  And yes, many retailers are planning on opening early for sales, and by early, I mean Thursday - Thanksgiving Day - at 6pm.

Can you hear it?  Can you hear the outcries?  Stores are going to be open on Thanksgiving!  How could stores open on Thanksgiving and let people shop for Christmas?  That is what Black Friday is for!  The cries have gotten so loud that Wal Mart employees have threatened to strike in over 1200 stores across the nation (yeah, kinda ironic that it is Wal Mart - non unionized - threatening a strike) as their protest.  I guess, since you have all these retailers opening on Thanksgiving and forcing people to work means anyone shopping is going to hell.

Not so fast!  Businesses are only doing what is best for their business.  Yes, I think I just pissed off one or two of you by saying that.  It is so true though!  Businesses have an obligation to make money for themselves and for their stock holders.  Plus, we as consumers have forced their hands in catering to our desire to have things now.  When looking at the choice to be open and make money to please us the consumer or to be closed and lose out on the money that comes with the shopping, I can't blame these businesses.  I'm sure if you were put in that same position, you would think long and hard about closing the doors and losing money.

My next question lies in the non retail side.  What makes this any different that those working at a hospital or gas station?  What about the EMT, police officer or fire fighter?  How about those working in a hotel caring for your family visiting from another state?   Or the flight crew that was working the plane they just walked up the Jetway from?  I don't hear the outrage over these people working.  I don't hear of them staging a strike.  In contrast, I hear well wishes, pleasantries or laughing.  I see a genuine care, a smile and if your lucky (or unlucky) a tip of the cap as your asked for license, insurance and registration.  In these industries, people are mandated to work just as retail is now being mandated.  Sure, some of them are public service and there is no real value being made off of serving.  But, in other service industries there is money to be made.  There is a bottom line that these businesses are trying to make, and by providing these services, they too are meeting their bottom line.

Am I anti holiday observance.  Not at all.  I wish all of us could have to fortune of not working on holidays.  I wish we hadn't become a Jimmy John's society.  Reality, however, has dictated differently.  I so wish that we could enjoy each holiday as it comes.  Again, reality has shifted and hurried our celebrations earlier each year.  But, this is indeed what America has come to.

So, before you cry foul, think about more than just the retail.  Think about the service side of things too.  Think about those making life a little more pleasant for you and your family.  If your in retail and hate the fact you have to work, realize you aren't the only person unable to spend the full day with your family.  Yeah, it may suck having to work, but it is only temporary.  Make it a challenge to yourself to make an angry shopper smile - it may make both of your nights.  Lastly, if you are a consumer, one flying, getting free breakfast at the hotel or the one needing the public spanking, try giving the ones working for you a smile and a well wish.  Better yet, try making everyday a day of Thanksgiving, Christmas or Presidents Day.  Really, isn't that what life should be about instead of the chaos that surrounds some of these holidays?

Let the outrage begin.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Be still and Know

The last couple of days I have reflected on many a things that life brought my way over the last three years.  Life, friendships, heartache, cancer, divorce, new beginnings, vacation and the list goes on.  It also brought me writing.  Not something one contemplates over, but something that I learned to do as a therapy for the times I needed comfort during treatment.  Yes, writing indeed brought new insight to the trials of cancer, the treatment and the path it took me.  Tonight, I return to write once again for some therapy.  And, if any of you read my Caring Bridge blog when it was active, you might recognize the concept.

As with any normal family, my life tends to go at break neck speeds.  One kid needs to get to this place, the other across town.  I'm at work and have to get the first one when done while my wife picks up the other one.  I have tomorrow off, but gotta do something with both kids after school, and if I'm lucky, I'll get to pick up lunch and take it to my wife.  Then, after the kids are dropped off at home, I have a quick meeting via phone call that might take 20 minutes or so.  Before I know it, I'm going to bed at 11pm or later on consecutive nights.

Anybody get tired reading that like I just did?  Ha! Ha!  The above example is when there is just one kid in sports and not during baseball season.  I won't even think about trying to write down a normal day during baseball season when the son has a home game and the daughter has a track meet or swim meet.  Thankfully, the boy is gonna have his license here in a few weeks, so running him all over the place isn't going to be occurring to often.

Anyway, the frenetic pace isn't really what this blog is about.  It is just the set up.  The set up for a potential disaster.  The disaster of not taking in the beauty of life.  The gift that life brings.  The beauty of watching my kids grow into great young adults.  The joy of watching my wife pursue her passions.  The dog be the crazy (and mostly lazy) dog she is.  And, I also might miss the beauty of quite.  I might miss hearing that every once in a while.

Wait, what?  Miss the quiet?  I really did just type that.  Of course I'm gonna miss the quiet when life moves so fast.  But the sound of quiet isn't the longing for that I miss.  It is the opportunity to soak it in when I have it around me.  Sure, there might be noise emanating from various directions, but there very well could be quiet I'm not enjoying.

Do yourself a favor: sit back, lay down, prop your feet up in a recliner, so somehow just relax.  Now, close your eyes, take a deep breath in and listen for a couple minutes.  Repeat the process again and focus on what you hear.  What was it you heard?  Kids screaming?  Music?  Spouse typing on the computer?  Maybe your cell phone notifying you of another Facebook post about your move in Words with Friends.  Whatever it was, did you really hear it.

During treatment, I had ample time to hear everything.  One hour a day, I heard the laser preparing to zap me with protons.  The radio station in the back ground, the techs changing out molds the laser goes through.  I got to hear the room move (yes, the room - Gantry - rotated around me).  I even heard the laser not just get ready to zap me, I heard the laser start and end the zapping process.  But, there was one more thing I heard.

So, when you listened, what did you hear?  Psalm 46:10 says to, "Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted."  Every day on that treatment table, I was blessed to be still.  I got to experience first hand that through my hardship he was indeed God and he was being exalted.  I was able to gain insight into what I needed to learn through the many lessons cancer was teaching me.  Though surrounded by noise, that noise became static (and helped me keep track of how long I had left on the table) and what I really heard was God being exalted.  Sometimes it was through the music being played during treatment.  Other times, it was just simply hearing the silence.  No matter though, I got the assurance that God was in control.

Answer the question.  What did you hear.  Was it the kids?  Take joy in that knowing that God is in control despite their screaming or fighting.  Take joy in the fact that one day your kids will love each other and not be afraid to show it.  If it was that annoying band your husband listens to, rest assured that he is taking joy in hearing an art that calms him down (or his helping him get amped up for his workout in the basement).  Whatever it is you heard, I pray you enjoy it.

Repeat this process again tomorrow at some point in time.